As we sat down to Thanksgiving dinners, hoping for a return to a new version of normal, the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus was just beginning to wreak havoc on the other side of the world.
Now, just three weeks later, Suffolk County is seeing a definitive surge in Covid-19 cases, as national public health experts warn the public to be cautious in their Christmas celebrations in the week ahead.
On Halloween of this year, there were 268 new cases of Covid-19 reported in Suffolk County, where the seven-day moving average positivity rate was just 2.3 percent. On Nov. 30, there were 567 positive cases, with a seven-day average of 5.5 percent.
This Friday, Dec. 17, there were 1,977 cases of Covid-19 reported in the county, with a seven-day moving average positivity rate of 8.6 percent. There were 313 people hospitalized with the virus in the county, with 51 of them in intensive care.
By comparison, on Nov. 30, there were just 153 people hospitalized with Covid in Suffolk County, with 27 of them in ICU — nearly double the number of people in just 17 days.
CDC director Rochelle Walensky said in a White House briefing on Wednesday, Dec. 15 that “Omicon could represent about 13 percent of all cases” in New York and New Jersey, while nationwide it has been found in 36 states and is currently making up about three percent of cases throughout the country.
Dr. Walensky added that Omicron cases appear to be doubling every two days.
“It is the most transmissible virus of Covid that we had to deal with those far. It will soon become dominant here,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci at a virtual U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation event this week. “When you look at the pace of the infections now, things will get worse as we go into the depth of the winter. And with Omicron breathing down our back, things could get really bad, particularly for the unvaccinated.”
Dr. Fauci again urged people to get vaccinated, and to get a booster shot if they’ve already completed an initial vaccine series. He said the booster should be effective at preventing people who catch the Omicron variant from getting very sick.
We don’t have data on what percentage of local cases are Omicron — only a little over five percent of U.S. Covid-19 testing samples are sequenced to determine their genetic makeup, according to GISAID, an international non-profit epidemiological resource.
But health experts are asking the public to take precautions when getting together with their families for the holidays, as the new variant appears to be less affected by vaccines than the most recent variant of concern, Delta.
The CDC recommendations include wearing a well-fitting mask even if you are vaccinated, and considering using an at-home self-testing kit before attending gatherings with people outside of your immediate household.
As has been the case throughout the pandemic, the virus is less likely to spread in well-ventilated places or outdoors, social distancing is still effective, and so is washing your hands.
Getting a booster before the holidays is also a good idea, although time is running out to make an appointment before Christmas.
As of Dec. 13, the New York State Department of Health had documented 226,972 breakthrough cases of Covid-19 among vaccinated New Yorkers since May of this year, with 12,916 of those people requiring hospitalization, which corresponds to 0.1 percent of the population of vaccinated New Yorkers ages 12 and up. The state reported that vaccinated New Yorkers have between an 89.9 percent and 95.1 percent lower chance of being hospitalized with Covid-19, when compared with unvaccinated residents.
According to data from the New York State Department of Health, the effectiveness of vaccination against Covid-19 infection has waned since the beginning of their data set in May of this year, when the vaccines appeared to be 92 percent effective against Covid. As of their latest data set on Nov. 22, before the Omicron variant set in but well into the Delta wave, the effectiveness had waned to 79.8 percent.
“The reasons for changes in this effectiveness estimate are unclear and may be due to declines in immunity from the vaccines, the marked increase in the levels of the Delta variant during this time period (to >99% of specimens in the federal region containing New York State), and/or changes in protective behaviors over time,” according to the State Health Department. “This is an area of active study by scientists in New York and around the world.”